The Regime We Must Change is Bi-Partisan
By Howie Hawkins and Ron Ehrenreich
Can peace and freedom activists resist wars abroad and repression at home by supporting a presidential candidate who supports war and repression?
One would think that the answer to that question would be obviously no! Yet Paul Street and Michael Albert answer yes in the November 2003 Syracuse Peace Council Newsletter in articles originally published on ZNet.
Street says “it goes almost without saying” that we have to support “any of the Democratic candidates.” Albert wants the Green Party to backhandedly support the Democrat by not running their presidential candidate aggressively in the 15-20 “battleground” states where the vote will be close and the Green candidate might affect those states’ Electoral College votes.
Yet the Democrats have supported Bush’s repressive militarism every step of the way. Only one Democratic Senator opposed the USA PATRIOT Act. Only one Democrat in Congress opposed giving unilateral war powers to Bush in response to the crime of 9-11. Only eleven Democrats in Congress voted against the March 2003 resolution of “unequivocal support” for George Bush as he launched the occupation of Iraq.
So why should we start relying on the Democrats to resist Bush now?
None of the leading Democratic presidential candidates calls for cutting Bush’s over half-trillion dollar war budget for next year.
None of the Democratic presidential candidates calls for withdrawing US troops from any of the 121 out of 190 UN member states where the US has military basing.
None of the Democratic presidential candidates says “Iraq for the Iraqis, Afghanistan for the Afghans – Bring US Troops Home.” They are saying they can do a better job than Bush of completing the US occupations.
Yes, Kucinich and Sharpton have fantasies about using the US-dominated UN to supervise elections and a US withdrawal, but they are pledged to support the real Democratic nominee, who will continue the occupations.
The US is in Southwest Asia to grab oil and, most of all, strategic sites for military bases on the underbelly of Eurasia that put any potential rival to US power – Western Europe, Russia, China, Japan – within striking distance. This geostrategic vision is bipartisan. You will find it in the writings of Democrat Zbigniew Brzezinski and Republican Henry Kissinger. Many of the neoconservative militarists who pushed the occupation of Iraq under Bush have worked for Democratic administrations and congressional staffs, including Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, James Woolsey, Kenneth Pollack, and Elliot Abrams.
But the revolving door swings just as easily the other way. Danny Seabright, for example, ran Bush’s war inAfghanistanat the Pentagon until joining the Dean campaign as a foreign policy advisor. Bill and Hillary Clinton have repeatedly supported Bush’s occupations ofAfghanistanandIraq. Indeed, Bush has far to go to match the aggressive militarism of Clinton, who sent US troops into combat in support of US global domination 46 times, more than Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Bush Sr. combined.
And, for those who think unilateralism is the issue,Clintonsent troops into battle unilaterally in most cases. AsClinton’s Secretary of State and then UN Ambassador, Madeline Albright, angrily told Colin Powell, now Bush’s Secretary of State and then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “What’s the point of having this superb military that you’ve always been talking about if we can’t use it?” She told the UN Security Council in 1994 regardingIraq: “We will act multilaterally when we can, unilaterally when we must.”
The point is that both the Democrats and Republicans support the Bipartisan Consensus around the geostrategic vision of global empire based on the twin policy foundations of neoliberal economics and neoconservative militarism.
A New Politics?
After endorsing “any of the Democratic candidates,” Street says that “beyond 2004”, we need the “creation of a new politics” based on changes in political structures and culture. Among the structural changes he proposes are public campaign financing, proportional representation, and abolition of the Electoral College.
Why wait “beyond 2004?” The Democrats have had three years now to campaign for changes to rectify the stolen election of 2000, but they haven’t. Indeed, they didn’t even fight it when it happened, as Gore, Lieberman, Clinton, and Reno refused to make a legal issue of the computerized racial profiling that denied voting rights to thousands of African Americans in Florida. Hillary Clinton got a headline as she took office in 2001 for announcing she would introduce a constitutional amendment to eliminate the Electoral College, but she didn’t follow through. How are we going to get structural political changes even debated without running independent left candidates?
Street is right to call for a new political culture that helps people to resist “relentless commercial and mass-cultural carpet bombing.” But who, other than an oppositional political party, is going to build that political culture where people can think critically together about public affairs?
You can’t go to local chapter meetings of the Democratic and Republican parties. You just register in them and get mobilized by the party committees on election day. The party committees are an elite group, theoretically elected in primaries but usually self-selected by petitioning without opposition. In any case, they are not structures open to every rank and file party member.
We need to create a grassroots oppositional party with local chapters open to every member where critical thinking and education take place, where members discuss issues, take positions, elect and instruct delegates to higher party bodies, and hold them accountable at local meetings. This is what the Green Party and the Socialist Party have been building while those like Street always tell us to wait until after the next election.
A “Smart” Strategy?
Michael Albert understands the need for grassroots organization and movement building when he says, “We want a post election movement to have more awareness, more hope, more infrastructure and better organization by virtue of the approach it takes to the election process.” But then he completely undermines that goal with his “smart voting” proposal for the Green Party for 2004. The minute the Green campaign stops competing for votes in battleground states is the minute no one will take it seriously because it will not affect the outcome. It will not build but rather demoralize and disorient the organization and movement Albert wants to come out of the 2004 campaign.
Albert is preaching defeatism. His “smart” strategy gives up on the capacity of peace and freedom movements to win over enough people to really affect the debate and power relations in American politics. So he counsels us to indirectly support the Democratic militarists because they are “not so violent and aggressive” as the Republicans, a very dubious point if you compare the military and foreign policy records of Democratic and Republican administrations in the twentieth century.
But even granting that the Democrats are the lesser evil of the militarist parties, nothing would be so dispiriting and destructive for the oppositional Green Party than to run a half-hearted campaign that really supports a pro-imperialist Democrat by absenting itself from the battleground states. Such a posture would actually help Bush’s war and repression agenda by co-opting, dividing, and pacifying an oppositional political movement that has the potential to shift the terms of political debate and power in this country in ways the Democrats would never want to do.
By deferring to the Democrats to speak for us on peace and freedom issues, we lose our independent voice and very identity as an opposition to repressive militarism. We sap the very foundations of our integrity and credibility as an opposition to war and repression by engaging in a duplicitous charade, pretending and lying that the Democrats really oppose US imperialism. Such an approach would destroy rather than build the awareness, hope, infrastructure, and organization Albert wants to come out of the election process in 2004. It will feed the cynicism that so many Americans have about all electoral politics.
A Real Opposition
As Bush, with the nearly unanimous support of Congressional Democrats, moved to invade Iraq last February, opposition around the world brought forth the largest protest demonstrations in world history. The New York Times suggested that there was now a second world superpower: world public opinion.
The Green Party can give that second superpower voice in the 2004 election. A USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll on October 22, 2003, found that 23% of the American public (about 40 million potential voters) wants Ralph Nader to run again and 65% (about 80 million potential voters) wants him included in the presidential debates. Gore “won” the 2000 presidential election with only 51 million votes.
Who is to say that a Green presidential campaign cannot solidify an opposition that can compete for power? We won’t know if we don’t try. According to the polls, Dean was the shoe-in Democratic nominee three weeks before the Iowa caucuses. Two weeks later, Clark, Kerry, and Edwards had closed the gap. About the only certainty in electoral politics was stated by the early twentieth century Socialist Party’s presidential candidate, Eugene Debs: “It is better to vote for what you want and not get it, than to vote for what you don’t want and get it.”
In 2004, there will be independent progressive candidates running for the Green Party and the Socialist Party. Ralph Nader is now laying the groundwork to campaign as an independent with Green Party support. Meanwhile, the Socialists, at their convention last October, nominated Walt Brown of Oregon for President and Mal Herbert of Vermont for Vice-President. Both have been anti-war activists for decades and are committed to the Socialist principles of Radical Democracy.
In 2004, peace and freedom activists need to support presidential campaigns that really stand for peace and freedom, not a Democrat who supports the same bipartisan agenda of repressive militarism as the Republicans. We may not win the White House this time, but we will certainly come out of the election as a stronger movement than if we let a “lesser evil” Democratic militarist co-opt and silence our independent voice and opposition to war and repression.
Howie Hawkins is a Green, a Socialist, and a Teamster. Ron Ehrenreich is a Socialist, a Green, and a credit union officer.
January 21, 2004